Saturday, April 18, 2009

Discounting the Tea Parties

Yesterday, I had an interesting discussion with econ blogger Mike Moffatt in the comments section of EconLog. We were both commenting on economist David Henderson's post about the tea party he attended.

My question, posed to no one in particular, was why many people assert that the tea parties were meaningless because the people attending them (supposedly) did nothing to protest the growth in spending under the Bush II administration. In my view, if the federal government is currently spending too much, it's good that people protest against that conduct, regardless of whether they did or didn't protest sooner.

Mike's explanation (at least as far as he is concerned) was that (1) Republican administrations have been more fiscally irresponsible than Democratic ones; (2) all but a tiny fraction of the tea partiers were Republican partisans; (3) participation in, or promotion of, the tea parties thus amounts to lending support to the Republican party; and therefore (4) participation in, or promotion of, the tea parties is likely to make the federal government more fiscally irresponsible.

That explanation is rational, if one accepts the premises. I can see how someone who believes that a Republican administration is bound to be worse than a Democratic one would not want to do anything likely to increase the chances of having a Republican administration, even if he thinks that the current Democratic administration is doing some things that should be criticized.

To my way of thinking, however, protest against a bad policy is never out of order. I suppose one could imagine a scenario in which one would not want to join a particularly despicable group (neo-Nazis, for example) in protesting something one is also opposed to. But aside from such extreme examples, I can't see the good in withholding criticism only because one doesn't approve of the beliefs of others who are making the same criticism. Being too particular about my co-protesters would result in my silent acceptance of things that are harmful.

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